The Art of Natural Dressage

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 20, 2007 6:31 am 
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How have you encouraged the suspension required for passage? Or for improved trot in general. My mare is doing a nice piaffe as far as good rhythm and shifting the weight back, but there is no pause between diagonal pairs. Her trot also lacks good suspension.

Any ideas?

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 20, 2007 9:31 am 
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Hi Danee,

Great to read from you again! I just turned your post into a sticky as it's a very essential question. :D

First; do you have a movie of your piaffe? Because I'm not sure what you mean with having a pause between the diagonals - that's not required in piaffe.

Then about the passage: I guess you mean with suspension getting the horse to become less forward, and more upwards moving.

First of all I would look at what your horse offers naturally: does she canter more or does she trot more? Sjors is a trotter, Blacky prefers canter. So with Sjors I used the trot, and with Blacky the canter to ask for more upwards movement. So SJors now does (did, he forgot it a couple of days ago :cry: 8) ) passage, and Blacky tries hard on collected canter and is getting there quite well. Sjors is learning the collected canter from the passage (that's why he got confused and temporarily lost the first), and Blacky is learning that he can move more upwards in canter so that he can later on try the same in trot too.


Preparation for passage

The quality of your transitions
The key for getting passage however is in both methods the quality of your upwards and downwards transitions: Does your horse flex at the poll both in walk and trot? And more important: does he maintain this flexion or lowers his head when you ask for an upwards or downwards transition? If he tenses in transitions by bringing his head up and hollowing the back, your horse makes transitions by locking his body - and that will hinder him in making transitions towards passage too. So that should first be solved: if your horse drags his head up- and backwards when making a normal transition, ask him to make these transitions while moving in a small volte while keeping the head bent to the inside. This bending in stretches the outside neck muscles and prevents them from drawing the head up - of course do so on both sides equally! When he understands that he can stay soft during transitions, you can ask him to soften during straight transitions too by asking him to lower his head in the gait you're working in and only when he lowers his head, you ask for the transition - and reward immediately when he responds! So then you have a horse who drops his head and neck when making a rtansition, which is a really good start. only then you can ask him to stay collected with a flexed poll during regular transitions - and of course logically only then you can start to think of doing transitions to passage.

Spanish walk
A well-known method from the classical dressage is to teach the passage through or after the Spanish walk. The important thing about the Spanish walk is that it teaches the horse an exaggerated upwards movement in walk - as the passage is in fact a kind of exaggerated upwards trot. The Spanish walk paves the road to this passage because it gives the horse the ideas he needs in order to think of the passage in terms of upwards movement and more leg-action. On the other hand the Spanish walk stretches the shoulders in such a way that it's easier to rotate them more expressively in the passage too.
Some classical dressage teachers also teach their horses the Spanish trot: a Spanish walk in trot. This isn;t the same as the passage as in the Spanish trot the frontleg is lifted higher and more horizontal stretched in the air - and because of that there's less time for the suspension moment in which the horse jumps upwards and loose of the ground. So even though the Spanish trot seems to be much more upwards as the frontlegs stretch forwards, in fact the movement is less upwards than the passage as in the passage the frontlegs don't move that much, but the body jumps up much more. However, some horses learn the passage better after the Spanish trot because in that gait they've learned to slow their trot really down while keeping it expressive. Then they only have to exchange the stretched frontlegs for a higher jump and you've got the passage.



Methods:

Mimicry
For me the most important too for creating upwards movement, is mimicry: teach your horse that he can mimick your movements, and start doing trot-passage transitions yourself. With a trotpony like SJors that worked very well after a few weeks of mimicking my transitions walk-halt-trot-slow trot-fast trot. One day when Sjors really started to mimick every speed I started and also trotted collected at a slow pace, getting into the improved trot you ask for.
When we got at that point, I started 'collecting' myself more in that gait and did a couple of steps passage myself. Sjors' first response was to brake to a halt and look at me as if I had gone beserk - and I rewarded him for that. At least he was giving me a reaction, and even though it wasn't really flattering, it meant that he had seen that I had changed my gaits. Then he just trotted along for a couple of times while I made transitions to passage (and still looked at me in a very weird way), and then he decided to try it too, and gave one upwards diagonal in trot. :shock: :D
With Blacky, his collected canter is based on mimicry too: I asked him to canter when running together, but at the same time slowed down myself. Blacky tried to match that by instead of going to canter going to walk or trot, and at some point tried if he could do the same in canter too. Bingo!

Lungeing
The first step essentially is to teach your horse that if you flick the whip against/under the hindfeet, this isn't a cue for 'go faster' from now on, but instead a cue for 'move more collected'. Every time your horse responds by first slowing down more, then collecting more, you reward him for this. Then when he really understands the fact that it's not about speed anymore, you start to ask for more exaggerated responses to this whip-cue: for a bigger upwards jump in trot or when making a transition towards trot.
The important thing with this method to remember is that it easily can go wrong: because next to teaching your horse the passage this way, you can also annoy him into the passage in this way by continuously flicking the whip, when he responds with speed tell him to slow down, then whipcue etc. That's also a way - but I don't think it's a good way because instead of teaching your horse to enjoy this collected feeling, you teach him to dislike it as the training method used is something he dislikes. So be very careful when trying this method and preferably try it at liberty, with your horse circling around you like in lungeing, but now at liberty. That you you at least give him the chance to say 'Stop being so annoying and rude!' when in your enthusiasm and perfectionism you get demanding and rude with the whipcues. And that's only too easy!
That was my problem when trying this: the pony's weren't offering me the collection, I was nagging them for it. That, and the fact that I constantly had to cue them for collection instead of having them do it themselves led me away from this method and towards trying to do it totally at liberty because that doesn't involve physical cues, and is less intrusive or demanding towards the horse and therefore gives him more space to answer as he wants.

But I remember quite a few people over here having reached the passage already too. What did you use?


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 20, 2007 9:37 pm 
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My success with achieving some degree of passage has been totally dependant upon the attitude of my horse. He offers quite a variety of movement and it has been up to me to reward at the exactly the right time in order to "capture" the movement. Cam, my gelding, is extremely alert and sensitive to this. I used the longe whip tickling behind the hind legs and as soon as he scooted those hooves and hindlegs under his body, I quickly rewarded him with a couple of treats and took him off the cordeo for a bit of wild play. He got it very quickly. It was just a little bit of elevation at first. I slowly built on this to increase his balance and muscle development. It was clear that he understood what I was asking and offered increasing elevation and suspension as his physical strength and ability increased. Trot-canter-trot transitions helped with this for this horse because he needed the forward movement to keep his interest and impulsion. Piaffe for this horse has come after passage. His piaffe is improving with walk-trot-walk transitions. This took longer, but when he got it, you could see the light-bulb go off in his eyes.

He and I are currently playing around with collected canter and he has offered an extreme "school" type canter which I didn't expect. The main thing with him is that old saying about being able to see and reward the slightest try. Any kind of pressure is too much for this horse and he gets worried, anxious and starts throwing out all the behavior he can think of. Very wild!

I have a much different situation with my mare. I can't even attempt anything advanced until our relationship is to the point where she is interested in participating with me. She is now offering vertical flexion at a standstill and will play wildly with me at liberty offering her own free collection including the vertical flexion. She offers so much wild movement, that I am trying to help her with "balance" before movement as is described in another thread in this forum.

For me, I always am careful about not asking too much. No pressure. I won't try and "make" my horse do something that I visualize. Instead, I try to shape what I'm offered. Sometimes this requires a very careful, but relaxed eye and a deep feeling of participation and partnership with what is going on at the moment. I experience the least success when I take the position of "trainer". If I am my horses buddy and we're playing around, it is amazing what we can come up with. Great fun too! :D

I am videoing where we are now, but don't have enough decent footage to post yet. Hopefully soon. It is harder to capture some of this on tape than I thought.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 21, 2007 8:36 am 
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That's totally true; how in reality you get there depends most of all on your horse. Sjors also is more lively and keen to express himself in flashy ways than Blacky, so asking him to shwo some more expressive movements wasn't really hard because that's in his personality. Blacky on the other hand is quite introvert (becoming less), and needs more preparation in the shape of preparational exercises in order to at some point get the idea to move more upwards. He's the kind of pony you really teach, while with Sjors it's more that you inspire him (and then the hard labour for me is getting it on cue before he comes up with other new exiting movements and confuses them all with each other :roll: :wink: )


And it's funny that you mention the transitions too. I found them to be such amazing tools in improving movement at liberty! It's quite interesting because in a lot of natural horsemanship or 'liberty' training systems transitions actually aren't practised that much. There's much more emphasys on getting the specific behavior you ask for (for example asking the horse to circle around you, or to start moving sideways) and then try to perfect that within that movement. But that really only works if you have enough tools to correct the wrong movement with, and to keep your horse from falling out of that movement because he gets bored with the repetition towards perfection. While when working at liberty, transitions really are the highway to collection and not only improve the movement itself, but also the communication between horse and human, simply because you're exchanging much more information in a much shorter time than when you say 'now trot for five minute'.

When I was trying to teach Sjors to maintain his flexed poll in walk, I first tried to ask him to flex his poll while he was walking - and that didn't really work at all because Sjors' brain was set on 'walk' and not much else. So I decided to just ask him to stand flexed - then walk two steps and then stand flexed again. It took Sjors about five minutes to understand that staying flexed in walk between the halts actually was a lot easier and also feeling better. The same happened when trying to teach him to maintain this posture in trot. Probably because I'm very slow on the uptake. :oops: Again I first thought I could just let him trot and ask for flexion during that trot. Not with Sjors, (and as it later turned out, not with Blacky either). So then I had this flash of sudden intelligence :roll: and asked myself; why not do it the same as I did in the walk? So I just asked Blacky to walk flexed at the poll, then asked for three steps trot and then asked for a collected walk again and rewarded that. After one training Sjors realised that trotting with flexed neck was so much easier too. At the moment Sjors has forgotten the passage, but when he still knew it, we were getting that better too by making transitions from passage to trot - indeed to get his head in a better, more healthy frame. Only in transitions your horse really starts to think over the movements you're asking him to do. If you ask for longer stretches of one movement, their minds very quick turn on autopilot and before you know it they just 'do the trot they always do', and find it very hard to respond to new improvements of that gait.


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 22, 2007 6:04 pm 
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Miriam wrote:
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While when working at liberty, transitions really are the highway to collection and not only improve the movement itself, but also the communication between horse and human, simply because you're exchanging much more information in a much shorter time than when you say 'now trot for five minute'.


EXACTLY! It is wonderful to see Cam's eager and excited attitude when we are at liberty exchanging lots of information at a rapid pace. In the old days when I used to ask him for four laps cantering in a circle, he was bored out of his mind and would pout and bend his ears back. What a difference now!

I'm a rather slow learner and have to be on my toes so that Cam doesn't get too far ahead of me. He, too, will offer behaviors rapid-fire on top of each other. In that old book of Karen Pryor's "Don't Shoot the Dog", (all about operant conditioning and positive reinforcement) she talks about giving a one minute "time out" when the animal starts anticipating. This has worked well for Cam who tends to get pretty wound up. If he thinks I'm about to ask for piaffe or collected canter, he will start leaping around and trying to do everything at once. I stifle my chuckles and ask him to just stand next to me and relax for a short while.

Miriam, your quote "transitions really are the highway to collection" has been so true for me. When my horse recognizes my request for an increase or decrease in movement and knows that the transitions may come very quickly, he pays close attention and begins to suspend his steps.

On another note, with Breeze I'm going to practice what you said about asking for vertical flexion at a standstill, taking a few walking steps and then asking for vertical flexion again. Like you describe, I have had no luck with this mare when I try to ask for collection or flexion when already in a walk or trot. She just throws her head up or does some of those Arabian head tosses.

Thanks so much!

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 22, 2007 8:25 pm 
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When I was trying to teach Sjors to maintain his flexed poll in walk, I first tried to ask him to flex his poll while he was walking - and that didn't really work at all because Sjors' brain was set on 'walk' and not much else. So I decided to just ask him to stand flexed - then walk two steps and then stand flexed again. It took Sjors about five minutes to understand that staying flexed in walk between the halts actually was a lot easier and also feeling better.


This also worked for Tamarack. Pose, take a few steps, stop and pose, take a step or two, pose, etc. Soon he was thinking about it all well enough that I could ask for the pose while moving. Still not perfect, but it will get there. He offers the pose more freely in trot than he does in walk, and there are still times that I ned to reach out and touch his neck at the base to remind him where he head needs to be. So we're still working on it.


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 23, 2007 11:39 pm 
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As I think more about what I am trying to develop with Breeze and read back thru this thread, I wonder if I'm going a bit astray by focusing too much on vertical flexion. I know that correct flexion comes with collection and often not before.

I think it is one thing to develop the muscle strength by introducing and practicing vertical flexion at a standstill, but perhaps it is a mistake to even worry about it if the hindquarters are not properly engaged during forward movement at walk and trot. If the weight is shifting from front to back, won't the head position eventually follow? I could easily get carried away, forget, and focus too much on head position.

Thoughts?

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 24, 2007 1:02 am 
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Right or wrong, I work front to back AND back to front. I feel that by teaching the Goat on the Mountain, and by teaching the pose (always being mindful and aware that he is doing so from the ase of his neck and not just from halfway up the neck to the poll), then essentially re-teaching both in movement (easier with the pose than with the Goat), then one way or another I should have the ases covered enough for a start on basic collection. I am obviously just starting on working from Goat to movement, goat to movement, etc. Every once in a while now, Tam offers a partial Goat when he poses. THIS is nice.

Make that Goat move though, is an exercise in patience! It's not something he is understanding easily. At some point I know we will have a breakthrough. I can see though, why A Nevzorov finds the Piaffe a good thing to teach early on. It necessarily combines the two ends of the horse in a trot-like movement...and since both the pose and the collection from behind (or at least a rounded back) is easier for the horse to do in trot, then why not the piaffe...at least some semblance of it...unlike Cisco's version of course... :D

But Tam is still slightly mistrustful of the energy I need to convey a movement such as Piaffe...so I have no idea how long it will take.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 24, 2007 2:12 pm 
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Me too. If Blacky stands with his head flexed, I reward him if he stands nicely and not dipped too low with his nose - but the only way to 'get him' to do that in movement too is by using transitions - there the hindquarters kick in already! :wink:

I don't think that 'standing collected' alone can teach a horse collection. As a horse can very well stand in the 'goat of the mountain pose' with his head flexed by just stiffening his hindlegs and sticking them further under his belly while he leans more on the forehand . That's Blacky's preferred way of doing this. 8) So a very good way to get some real hindquarter engagement in that exericse is by asking the hindlegs to lift alternately - or do a piaffe.

By the way: I'm just reading the very interesting book of Philippe Karl ('Die Irrwege der Modernen Dressur' if I'm correct, also translated into English, I guess it's called 'The mistakes of Modern dressage') and he has critically evaluated the FEI rulebook - and discovered that not only the FEI rules are regularly in conflict with each other, but also that demand movements and bends that are anatomically impossible for horses. He teaches horses classical dressage and haute ecole (with bit, in the traditional manner), but also completely ignores the headset of his horses when teaching them collection so his horses perform these in the beginning with their necks vertical and heads almost horizontal because of the effort these exercises places on their muscles, and lifting the neck is a very efficient way of shortening the backmuscles in order to draw the hindlegs further under the body. Later on the horse won't need this muscular 'shortcut' anymore and can drop their necks a little and relax the poll so that a true flexion starts. I thought that was a very interesting approach, as I can see Blacky using the same system when asking him for more collection or a collected canter: he raises his neck and head without really hollowing his back. Sjors also does the same in his 'passage'. I still tell him that I like the flexed poll a lot, but also accept that when learning new movements he won't be able to give me that right from the start. So yes, then the hindquarters are more important than the way the fron looks indeed.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 24, 2007 4:37 pm 
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I can certainly say that I tend to focus too much on a finished picture...head, neck, back. Last night, I had someone else get on Cisco and trot a bit, and where she doesn't have the same communication with him that I do (in terms of getting him to lift his back) it gave me a good opportunity to see where I have missed the mark in some things.

I believe I need to pay more attention (in groundwork especially) where the base of the neck is, and the haunches are, and stop worrying about where his nose might be right now. It is like we are on the brink of something wonderful, but that I am missing some important part. Perhaps this is it. I have felt for a while now that Cisco and I were at a little plateau...just coasting along, and not really knowing where to go from here.

I need to make myself a list of "micro goals"...things I can work on that are very tiny, but very important on the road to higher collection. As this is so much more difficult for Cisco than for Tamarack, I think I make allowances for Cisco and at times feel I shouldn't even try for higher collection with him.

But you know...one can never have finished picture if pieces of it are missing...like a jigsaw puzzle. So perhaps I have lost a couple of pieces somewhere along the line. I must look for them.

I think the closest he comes to true collection is rearing in hand. That is the only time he is truely under himself, and truely lifted in front - where he utilizes all parts of his body for a moment. I don't mean the actual rearing up, but that second of lift when he is preparing himself, just before he makes the effort to take his front feet off the ground. There is a moment that that I may be able to capture. It may destroy our rear up for now, but who cares? LOL. I think that moment is worth exploring and playing with. I will have to think and perhaps come up with a cue that would differentiate it from actually rearing up?

But in that moment too, I stop worrying about where his nose is...it is one of the time that I know he must lift his nose in order to execute the movement.

I hope this is an ah-HA! moment? We'll see! Does anyone else think this moment is one to play with, or do you think it's the wrong moment?

He is beginning to give me a passage in movement. I will address my feeling about this (wonderful!) in Cisco's diary...and I know that he is trying to shorten his body somewhat to do it, and the back lift is easily felt, but he is still very low with his head and behind the vertical, so the picture must be closer to a modern dressage type of passage, which isn't really collected at all...I know it feels ok to him, because he is offering it more and more, but he is doing it the "easy" way...with head held low so he can lift his back easier. This is fine, but I don't think the passage is part of the missing puzzle pieces...it has to lie elsewhere.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 31, 2007 10:03 pm 
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Karen wrote:
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I think the closest he comes to true collection is rearing in hand. That is the only time he is truely under himself, and truely lifted in front - where he utilizes all parts of his body for a moment. I don't mean the actual rearing up, but that second of lift when he is preparing himself, just before he makes the effort to take his front feet off the ground. There is a moment that that I may be able to capture. It may destroy our rear up for now, but who cares? LOL. I think that moment is worth exploring and playing with. I will have to think and perhaps come up with a cue that would differentiate it from actually rearing up?

But in that moment too, I stop worrying about where his nose is...it is one of the time that I know he must lift his nose in order to execute the movement.

I hope this is an ah-HA! moment? We'll see! Does anyone else think this moment is one to play with, or do you think it's the wrong moment?



I say Yes! Capturing and shaping what a horse offers has gotten me to places I never dreamed of. I think being able to do this in a subtle and effective way can be a key to developing more refined movements. My bet is that you have a keen eye and are quite experienced with positive reinforcement techniques and the timing involved in capturing what you want. If you are able to picture something your horse offers being used to develop something else, then I say go for it! You can certainly change your mind later and extinguish a behavior that didn't turn out like you planned.

Right now I am going back to targeting to try and achieve a better lift of Cam's left front leg during Spanish Walk. I wasn't picky or specific at all when beginning this movement and I find now, with patience, Cam understands to touch the target with his foot. Today he offered a fancy little flip that so far, he has only offered with his right foot. I was surprised and want to keep it, but it appears to be a very fleeting thing.

In the older book by Karen Pryor, "Don't Shoot the Dog", she talks all about shaping and how the animal begins to enjoy the interaction with the human far beyond just a food reward. When we get to the point where the horse is offering things and wants to interact, then we really have something fun to work with. I say take whatever comes your way!

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 13, 2007 5:03 am 
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Wow! Sorry I was a no show for awhile. I hate to say it but I was obsessing over the ideas on this forum so much that I started changing the way I behaved around my horse to the point that she was confused and hated me! I than realized that she appreciates the leadership and I have to find a middle ground, so I baned myself from outside ideas until I could get it all straight in my own head!


So anyway, my horse is much more springy in the canter. I have played a LOT with transitions- that is actually an understatement. At liberty, with a halter, while riding- itransitions is most of what we do. I auditted Walter Zettl (wonderful man!!!) and he has riders go from trot to almost walk to trot again and the horse usually ets springy in there somewhere. On the ground I like to play with walking along nice and forward, starting to spring into a trot, and by the second beat of trot settling back to a walk again. It is actually our 3yo stock QH that really is good at it!!! He does lift his nose too often, but he almost always comes up in the wither.


But anyway, my horse knows a little spanish trot, but its not very exuberant and she comes up more with the knees and doesn't really extend forward.

She comes up in the wither the first step of canter, so could I maybe incorporate a cue into that and reward her most elevated efforts maybe?

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 15, 2007 10:52 am 
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Quote:
but also completely ignores the headset of his horses when teaching them collection so his horses perform these in the beginning with their necks vertical and heads almost horizontal because of the effort these exercises places on their muscles, and lifting the neck is a very efficient way of shortening the backmuscles in order to draw the hindlegs further under the body. Later on the horse won't need this muscular 'shortcut' anymore and can drop their necks a little and relax the poll so that a true flexion starts.


In Walter Zettl's clinics, it is common to see the horse a little high headed and 'above the bit' for the first fifteen minuts, but instead of pulling the nose in, he has the rider establish a little contact on the outside rein and darn near throw away the inside rein and than really get those HQ moving. than they throw insome large circles and serpentines that get progressivly smaller, which gives the horse a reason to rethink hi postrure. By the end, the contact is soft elastic and willing. I have no problems with a bit whatsoever when it is used in this manner- unfortuanately it is rare.
But anyways, I too have to think less about the neck and more about the HQ- unless I have the neck to short, than I think about it alot! But not about getting it into some perfect shapre, but on how to get her to open it up more.


As far as using the wip behind the back feet for collection- I'll have to play with this more, but I'll do it in-hand or at liberty up close- my horse hates any type of "longing" unless she is particularly energetic. It is to dominating to her- "oh sure, send me out to work while you just stand there!!!" If I go with her it is all fun.

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 18, 2007 2:57 am 
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I started using cavalletti for suspension (I set them close together with some decent height) and than asked for spanish trot afterwards. Her spanish trot is all knees and stomping the ground rather quickly- she doesn't get any suspension in it at all, but the ground poles give her the suspension.

I had her go in a circle and asked for long and low on most of it, and than right before the poles, used my body language (mimicking)to ask her to collect and get springy.

We'll see where it goes. I hnever have done the whip under the hind feet, put I have tapped the hind legs for lift and "step under" and have even gotten some levade with it, so we'll see.

She sees this stuff as real WORK though so I have to be careful what and how much I ask for.

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2007 10:52 am 
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I love how you're experimenting, Danee!

But I do agree with you that using cavaletti will be 'work' very quick in the eyes of a horse... You write that you can get a Spanish trot when moving more energetic on your own without cavaletti: why can't you continue on that road? By shaping (watch the timing of your rewards!) the response you get from your horse, you can transform one movement into a 'better' one. And that way the work becomes play again too, for both of you.


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